Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Things I struggle with (3): The exclusively KJV position

Stopping at some traffic lights recently and as I looked around waiting for them to change I happened to spot a church's wayside pulpit (AKA 'a poster') asking the question 'what think ye of Christ?*' and it got me thinking - which has to be good!

My first thought was not concerned with Christ but why one earth anyone would seek to portray the Church as something firmly entrenched in the early 1600s? Change? Well the traffic lights did but the Church, if we advertise like the one I was rapidly moving away from did, appeared not to be... And that got me thinking (always dangerous).

I think the King James Version (KJV) and the New KJV are excellent reads and have an honoured and well-deserved place on my bookshelves but I have to say that when it comes to using it as an everyday source, I think there are issues. Issues in terms of accuracy and legacy issues and in terms of currency and the message it communicates to those outside of the Church.

Legacy - Good
Now I have to say whilst I am totally enamoured with the poetic nature of the KJV and love the fact that this is THE source of so much of the richness that is the English language. Influenced the Bard (and so many other literary greats during the golden age of English) and is wonderful for being the source of such expressions as:

scapegoat  Leviticus 16.8

out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Psalm 8.2

long-suffering Psalm 86.15

A fly in the ointment Ecclesiastes 10.1

casting your bread on the water  Ecclesiastes 11.1

No peace for the wicked Isaiah 57.21

Wheels within wheels Ezekiel 10.10

Feet of clay Daniel 2.33

The blind leading the blind Matthew 15.13

Turning the world upside down Acts 17.6

The powers that be Romans 13.1

Filthy lucre 1 Timothy 3.3

So there we are - I do like the KJV and value, respect and enjoy its beautiful language. BUT

Legacy & Accuracy - Bad
I an rather tired of having to defend my corner because despite the inspired translation of the extant texts before the KJV crew, the somewhat limited language (English) and the tools they had do lead me into places that eventually become just a little tiresome in their apologetical demands. A for instance here is to be found in Exodus 20.13, which goes like this:

Thou shalt not kill.

Now as one who works with members of the armed forces from time to time I have to say that this causes grief for those who join and for those who love and care for them. 'You can't be a Christian and be in the army,' they cry, 'Because the Bible says 'you shalt not kill!'

Actually, the demands of Exodus 20.13 is that 'You must not commit murder,' that is to say that you must take life feloniously (that is 'against the law') which means that killing a combatant in a war setting is exactly that - killing - as is engaging in capital punishment. The exodus passage goes a little further (as I understand it) to tell us that manslaughter, causing death by poor and shoddy workmanship and other acts which take life are also considered 'murder'.

This is just one example but I think it will suffice for now (unless you want the prooftexters dream passage where 'for the lack of a vision the people perish' but only in the KJV - but hey, that's the same for every version - there are always passages that read better (meaning the way you want) in other versions).

Currency and Communication
I have strong recollections of a committed and perhaps just a little mad person who would walk up and down outside Liverpool Street Station (along Bishopsgate) with a sandwich board upon which appeared a variety of KJV passages. The general populace assumed he was a bit strange and oddly, so too did most of the Christian I knew too!

One day I stopped the bloke and engaged him in conversation regarding his choice of version and his reply was, 'The King James' is the original Bible'! Oddly, I meet many who seem to think it is the version that Jesus used as a lad and they continue to promote it because it's the version Calvin (before he met Hobbes I presume) used too. The problem is that the Thee's and Thou's, as cool as the language is (and don't forget I'm a bit of a Shakespeare fan too), don't hang too well with the people around us today.

I love the KJV and whilst these days I will look to the ESV (English Standard Version) for accuracy and the NLT (New Living Testament) for accessibility and readability, I will always find myself coming back to the KJV and NKJV for the poetic.

But please - think about how we communicate to those who struggle to get by with an average reading age of a nine year old (God bless you Mr Gove, you're a toff) and realise that some of the stuff we have in our big black books (yours is black isn't it - it has to be black and have the word 'Holy' written on it  - I'll tell you the story some day soon) is pretty hard to gasp in accessible language and cloaking it in archaic, barely post-Elizabethan, language and portraying it as the 'only' authoritative version is totally unhelpful (about equal with people who claim Darwin was an ex-Christian or Galileo was punished by the Church because of his belief in science and his discoveries).

So there it is - I'm sure I'll make few friends with my views - but then again it's integrity that counts, especially when coupled with facts - and the fact are, I think, present!


*Matthew 22:42 KJV

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

I think that you are quite right about the KJV. Great to read for the expressions and language, but not accessible for today's Christian.

Which brings me onto the different versions, we seem to get a new or revised version almost weekly. Just look at Amazon to keep up.

Among the many bibles I have acquired including NIV & NRSV versions two that I use are the recent Revised ESV which is clear language and the Anglicised NRSV which happens to have the Common Worship readings for the three years in it, as well as simple service formats. Very useful indeed.

The Revised ESV is virtually a study version, so well is it annotated and it includes maps and contextual notes as well as the normal commentary type notes.

Perhaps I'm a cynic, but are not many versions rushed out to get a piece of what is a lucrative market. The Bible still being the best seller worldwide?